“When God Says No” Deuteronomy 3:21-29 January 31, 2010
SI: We’re studying the book of Deuteronomy.
The name Deuteronomy means a second giving of the law.
The Israelites were standing on the brink of the Promised Land.
They were about to cross the Jordan River
and take possession of the land promised to Abraham.
This was not the generation that came out of Egypt.
They had all died in the wilderness for their failure to trust God.
These were their children, the second generation.
God told Moses to give them the law a second time.
So they would know how he wanted them to live in the Promised Land.
But here’s the wonderful part. Before Moses gave the law
he told them a history of God’s gracious relationship with them.
And then only after that relationship founded on grace was affirmed,
did the Lord move on to the next part:
Now, this is how I want you to live.
That’s the way God always deals with us. Grace first. A relationship first.
Then the obedience he requires and that we give to show our love for him.
In this passage, Moses is talking about how the Lord has dealt with him personally.
and he says . . .
INTRO: When I was a child, one of my Sunday school teachers said that God
answers our prayers in three ways: Yes, No, and Wait.
That simple teaching has stuck with me all my life.
A few years ago I heard Tim Keller speak on prayer and he said that God
always gives us what we ask for, or he gives us what we would have asked for
if we knew everything he knows.
I like that. Because it puts all of God’s answers to our prayers in a positive light.
In a sense he always says yes. Not always the yes we think is best based on our
finite minds. But always a big yes. That was helpful to me. Maybe for you too.
But as I was studying this passage, the old Sunday school lesson of long ago
came back in all of its powerful simplicity—Sometimes God says no.
Moses prayed: Lord, please let me cross the Jordan and see the Promised Land.
And the Lord said—No. And don’t ask me again.
It’s a blunt no. It’s a perplexing no.
There never was a man who served the Lord as faithfully as Moses.
He served the Lord faithfully in Pharaoh’s court.
Even when Pharaoh mocked and threatened him.
He served the Lord faithfully by leading the people of Israel.
Even though they were ungrateful complainers, he never abandoned them.
Moses was truly a Christ-figure in his service to God and to God’s people.
It’s true that he did stumble once. Very publically. It was ugly.
Once in the wilderness the Israelites were complaining bitterly about lack of water.
God told Moses to speak to a rock so that it would give water.
Instead, in an angry outburst he struck the rock with his staff and shouted
at the Israelites, “Listen you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?”
And at that time, the Lord said—Moses, because you did not honor me
in the sight of the Israelites, you will not enter the Promised Land.
But that was years before.
And many times since then Moses had pled with the Lord,
asking him to change his mind and let him set foot in the Promised Land.
Many times Moses had expressed sorrow over his sin.
And, of course, the Lord had forgiven him.
But the Lord would not change his mind.
And now here was Moses, after 40 years of leading God’s people, literally
standing on the brink of the Promised Land. Standing on the banks of the Jordan.
And Moses prayed again: Lord, I can see it. I can see the land you promised.
Please, Lord, just let me cross the river. Just let me stand over there.
Before I die I just want to stand on the Promised Land. It’s so precious to me.
It’s such a symbol of your power and faithfulness. Grant me this final request.
And we think that surely the Lord will say yes.
Surely the Lord will grant this greatest desire of Moses’ heart.
It’s such a good request. It’s such a God-honoring request.
It makes us think of the words David wrote years later:
“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
And it makes us think of the words Jesus spoke many years after that:
“Ask and it will be given you, seek and you shall find” and
“Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it.”
There has probably never been a more genuine, heart-felt, God-honoring request.
But God said, No. And he said, Moses, that is enough.
Do not speak to me any more about this matter.
If ever there was need for proof that God sometimes says no to our prayers—
here it is.
And there are other no’s in the Bible.
There were other godly men and women who asked with honest hearts,
and got the same answer. There have been many through history.
And all of you here could add your story of a prayer God has answered with a no.
Not just wait. It’s not just that he hasn’t yet said yes, but he might.
Instead, it’s a definite no because the door has closed.
The loved one whose recovery you prayed for has died.
The unbelieving family member whose salvation you have prayed for
remained hard-hearted till the last and now he has died.
You’ve lost the job you prayed that God would help you keep.
The marriage you prayed would be saved ended in divorce.
You have your own Promised Land that you just want to stand on.
And God has not only said no. He’s also effectively said: And don’t ask again.
Why? What does God sometimes say no?
Let’s consider two reasons, both in this passage, that go hand in hand.
The Lord says no to cast you down and to lift you up.
MP#1 The Lord says no to cast you down.
He says no to your prayers to humble you,
and to give you a true sense of your place before him.
He’s seeking something in you. He’s seeking lowliness.
He’s seeking humility and meekness before him.
That being said,
there are many specific reasons why the Lord says no to certain prayers.
And sometimes you can figure out those specific reasons.
For one thing, all of the promises of answered prayer have conditions.
Bible says he will give you the desires of your heart, if you delight in him.
It says that God will give you what you ask for if your motives are right.
If you ask in Jesus’ name.
If you ask for that which is in accordance with God’s will.
If you ask persistently, proving your sincerity with your urgency and repetition.
Many times the no of God is simply because we have prayed in a wrong,
insincere way—to get stuff to satisfy our lusts—as James puts it.
The Bible also plainly tells us that there are times when God says no
as a matter of discipline.
One of the Psalms says:
“If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”
If you are cherishing a sin, loving it, holding on to it, refusing to repent—
then the Lord is going to say no to your prayers as a matter of discipline.
Peter gets even more specific in his first letter. Speaking to husbands he says:
“Be considerate as you live with your wives and treat them with respect . . .
so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”
Don’t expect God to say yes to your prayers if you’re being mean to your wife.
There may be specific lessons that God is teaching,
In this case, it seems that one reason the Lord said no was to impress a lesson on
this new generation of Israelites. He wanted them to see the serious effects of sin.
Even the effects of sin long after a person has repented and been forgiven.
You will notice that Moses told them that it was their complaining and ingratitude
that provoked him to commit the sin that kept him out of the Promised Land.
It was a lesson on the rippling effects of sin, how our sins can provoke other
people to sin, and the repercussions can sometimes be felt for years.
That was a lesson this new generation needed before going into Promise Land.
There was another specific reason why it seems God said no.
He wanted Joshua prepared and ready to take the leadership of Israel.
Once Moses understood that he would not cross the Jordan,
he gave all his energy to preparing Joshua to take his place.
There may be other reasons God said no to Moses and there may be specific
reasons why he has said no to some of your prayers.
Sometimes you are able to figure those things out.
But sometimes you can’t. And you can honestly say that you aren’t cherishing
sin in your heart, and you are delighting in God, and you are asking for something
that is in accordance with God’s will, and you are praying in Jesus’ name,
and you are asking sincerely and persistently—and still God says no.
Why? He’s seeking something in you. He’s seeking a humble heart.
Mary Slessor was a famous pioneer missionary to what is now Nigeria.
She lived a life of incredible hardship and devotion.
She longed for a husband. She prayed often that God would give her a husband
to join her in the work and be a companion in her loneliness.
But she worked all by herself in a very remote tribal region
and that seemed to be an impossible dream.
Then she got sick and had to go to one of the cities on the coast for a time
to recover. And while she was there she met another missionary named
Charles Morrison. They fell in love and Charles proposed.
But for reasons that had to do with the plans of the mission board they were serving,
they had to break their engagement and she lived alone the rest of her life.
Just like Moses, she got to the very edge of the Promised Land
and then the Lord said no to her prayers and shut the door.
Why does God say no to prayers like that?
Because he’s seeking something in us.
He’s seeking our humility. He’s seeking our poverty of spirit.
He says no because he is God and he has his reasons and we are his creatures.
Moses’ request that he be allowed to enter the Promised Land
was a perfectly legitimate request, it was a proper and good request,
but it was his request. It was what Moses wanted.
And God was saying—Moses, that may be your wish, but it’s not mine.
And ultimately your life will be as I want it to be.
I am the Lord. I do what pleases me.
Mary Slessor’s request was good and proper.
There was nothing wrong with her praying for a husband,
and pleading with God to let Charles be the one.
But it was her request. It was what she wanted.
And through his no God was saying—Mary, even though I have made promises
to hear your prayers and answer them—I am not handing over to you the
running of your own life. I am your Father in heaven.
And a Father sometimes has reasons for saying no.
It’s so easy to say that we are happy to serve God and submit to his will
because much of the time, God’s will and what we want overlap.
So we fool ourselves into thinking that we are seeking God’s will
and submitting to it, when we are really seeking our own will.
Then God says no. He says no your request for something that is perfectly good.
And it is in that moment, God’s will crosses your plans and hopes,
and your heart is exposed. You can resist, or you can be humbled.
God’s no makes us see our true place.
It brings us back to the most fundamental spiritual truth—
that he is God and we are his creatures, we are the sheep of his pasture.
He is the potter, we are the clay.
He is our good and wise Father, and we are his little children.
Little children shouldn’t tell their parents what to do.
We have a tendency to do that—even in our prayers.
Even in our best prayers for all the right things.
So sometimes for the good of our souls and for humility the Lord says no—
and that reminds us that he is God and we aren’t.
Don’t resist him when he tells you no.
You may be sad. You may be heartbroken. That’s ok. But don’t resist him.
Don’t rage against him. Humble yourself under God’s almighty hand,
that he may lift you up in due time.
Because that’s exactly what he will do. He will lift you up.
Brings us to our second point . . .
MP#2 The Lord says no to lift you up.
He says no to your prayers to make you a greater Christian.
He says no to make you a greater man or woman than you would otherwise be.
It’s easy to think that the Christian who gets lots of prayers answered is the
strong Christian. Or the Christian who gets really big answers to prayer.
That must be evidence that he has great faith. But not necessarily.
The strongest Christian and the strongest faith
is when a person loves and trusts God when he says no.
That faith is stronger than faith that always hears God’s yes.
That was exactly what the Devil said about Job.
Remember, he said that Job’s faith was nothing. His life was easy.
God had always been good to him and answered all his prayers for his
children and his property. Let me take that away, the Devil said, and we’ll see.
Job lost his children, his money, his health—all suddenly and violently.
And what came out of Job? A faith that said:
“The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”
“Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.”
Job’s life after his loss was a much greater testimony of God’s grace
than it ever was when he was rich and healthy.
Who are the real heroes of the Christian faith?
Where is God’s grace really demonstrated to the world?
Not in the lives of Christians who have it easy.
Not in those who barely pray because they have everything they need.
No, the real heroes are those whose hearts stay sweet during great disappointments,
and who don’t doubt the Lord even when he says no.
In their trusting response to the disappointments of life they demonstrate
to the world how great and good the Lord is. Because even when he says
no to his children, they continue to cling to him and love him and trust him.
I love to say yes to my children. I love it when they ask me for something they
really want and I can say yes. I love the pleasure it gives them and love hearing
them say, Thank you, dad.
But you know what I love even more? It’s when I have to say no to my children
about something they really want. And they are disappointed.
And maybe there are even some tears and some initial frustration.
But later they hug me and say, That’s ok, dad, I understand.
Because that speaks volumes about their love and respect for me,
and about the impression my fatherly love has made on their hearts.
Moses was a great man.
There were many times when his life displayed God’s faithfulness and love.
Think about the time the Egyptian army was about to cut the Israelites to pieces.
Moses prayed and held out his staff and the Lord answered and parted
the Red Sea so that the people went through on dry land.
Wow. What a man of faith. What a huge answer to prayer.
And what a huge demonstration of the love of God.
But I think the case could be made that this is Moses’ finest hour.
The Lord said no. No to the great desire of Moses’ heart.
And he responded to this crushing refusal by accepting God’s answer
as good and right. He moved ahead with what God told him to do—
getting Joshua ready to take his place.
And in that response by Moses, he not only showed his great faith.
He showed the goodness and faithfulness of God.
Only the Lord could make such an impression on a man’s heart
that that man would continue to cling to him after such a disappointment.
There was a Scottish minister in early 1700s named Thomas Boston.
He was well known in his day for some books he wrote.
He and his wife Katherine lost six of their children when they were very young.
Even though they prayed their hearts out, the Lord took them anyway.
Then they had a daughter named Jane.
Jane was a special child. She showed a great spiritual sensitivity at an early age.
Thomas tells of a time when she was a little girl and a poor boy stopped at their
house to beg. His grammar was so bad that Mrs. Boston was tickled.
She asked him to repeat something just to hear him say it again.
Well, little Jane was watching this and tears came to her eyes.
After they had given the boy some food and sent him away, she asked her mother:
“Mother, (You just have to imagine this being spoken with a Scottish accent) did God make
that laddie?” “Yes, my dear,” came the reply.
Then Jane replied, “Will God not be angry at you for laughing at him?
For my book says, “He that mocks the poor reproaches his Maker.”
So Thomas loved this girl, and he had lost so many others.
Once he had to go on a trip, but he was worried about leaving home because Jane
had a bad cold. Then got word she was dangerously ill with a high fever.
So he left right away.
“At I took my horse, and journeyed all the night. Many thoughts about her went
through my heart like a arrows; but still I held firm by this, that whatever the Lord should do in
her case, it would be well done, it would be best done, and my soul would approve it as such.
And the faith of this was my anchor.”
Listen to those words. Coming from a man who had lost six children.
“Whatever the Lord should do in her case, it would be well done . . .”
When he got to
Then Jane got sick again, this time with small pox.
And he prayed for her desperately but it seemed she was going to die.
As he was praying, a strong spiritual impression came over him.
“Impressions of the sovereign God sitting on his throne in the heavens, having the matter in his hand wholly, to turn it what way he pleased, were by his grace, fixed on my spirit. And that word, Psalm 85:12, ‘The Lord shall give that which is good’ was the word I was led to for resting in, during the long time of her illness.”
Went on to say that this impression—that God was sovereign, and was holding Jane’s illness in his hand, and could turn it either way, to heal her or take her—
“That impression was as sweet to me as answered prayer.”
The Lord answered that prayer yes. And little Jane lived and grew up.
How did Thomas Boston face his daughter’s illness and possible death
with such amazing trust in God? How was he able to say, no matter what you do,
Lord, it is good and just knowing you are in control is as sweet as a yes?
Because he had learned to trust God during those most heartbreaking no’s.
When he and Katherine had prayed their hearts out for their six children
and the Lord had taken them anyway.
God’s business is your sanctification.
He is conforming you into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
And there is no place where the heart of Jesus more clearly seen than
in the Garden of Gethsemane. Because in the Garden he prayed to his Father.
He made a pure request from a pure heart. Perfect motives.
He said Father, let this cup pass from me. And God the Father said no.
And the Lord Jesus accepted that no and said with all his heart—
Not my will, but yours be done. Went to cross for you and me.
Unless God says no to some of your most sincere prayers,
you cannot walk in Jesus’ steps.
You cannot be like him in his suffering.
You cannot give glory to God as he did.
You cannot be brought down and then lifted up to a position
of great love and faith.
So when the Lord tells you no, and when he shuts the door and
effectively says, Don’t ask me again—remember that you are not alone.
Moses, Mary Slessor, Thomas and Katherine Boston—this is the experience
of all of God’s children in one way or another.
But best of all, this is the way of your Savior Jesus Christ.
And if God the Father would say no to his Son for your salvation,
then you know you can trust him to have your best interests in mind
when he sometimes says no to you.
A wise man said:
“Faith is sure that God refuses with a smile,
that he says no in the spirit of yes,
and he gives or refuses always in Christ, our great Amen.”